Texas Hill Country
October 12, 2020
Hurry Up and Rest
Leaving La Troncal, I was now at a low elevation on the coastal plains, much as I would be for the foreseeable future. Somehow I thought that would bring about a big change, but it didn't. It was still cool, cloudy, occasionally drizzly. And riding was still difficult sometimes.
25 km out of La Troncal, I found a little town with a couple hostals, both of which looked like they might've been better than the electricity-less one that demanded to have a faulty fire alarm keep beeping. Maybe I should've pressed on. But with smaller towns, you never know if anything will be available, and as I've learned, it's better to take the sure thing.
Drizzle fell early in the day again, but thankfully waned as the day went on. Valeria got dirty again.
After a while, I both heard and felt a strong click as I was pedaling. Uh-oh. Since I have no practice changing the shifter cables, and also have no cable cutters, and the cable is held in place with an incredibly uncommon screw for which I have no compatible tool, I'm on edge about every possible mechanical failure.
I pedaled, coasted, pedaled slowly, trying to figure out what triggers it. It was only while pedaling, and there wasn't a click on every last cycle. Maybe some dirt and grit is just doing something to the bottom bracket? I spent five minutes brushing dirt and muck off Valeria and pushed off again. Problem solved, somehow!
About 20 km from Santa Rosa, having made good time for the most part, the highway merged with another one and expanded greatly. No longer was it one lane each way, made out of asphalt (still better than Texas's chip seal), this was a veritable freeway, made out of concrete! I was impressed. Best of all, traffic barely increased, making it easy for cars to pass in the other lanes. A much more pleasant ride!
That is, except for the few section that were still under construction. They weren't just unpaved, they were horrible! But when it's only temporary, and it's in the process of drastic improvement, it's hard to complain.
Wait, no it's not. Complaining is easy.
Right after one of the construction zones, flat #6. Piece of glass this time, front tire.
I crossed the Ecuador-Peru border early in the morning and mistakenly thought it was an uncontrolled border for a minute. As it turns out, the immigration office was at least 1 km south of the actual border. Would have been nice to keep riding instead of doing paperwork again, but at least they didn't charge me anything this time.
Much like most Latin American countries, Peru wanted me to fill out a form with my personal info on it, and unusually, Ecuador wanted one too, in order to leave the country. And like always, they didn't have a pen. I carry one, but it was buried in one of my larger panniers. Maybe I should start keeping it with my passport.
I stepped outside the office and immediately found a small young woman with a large backpack. She was cute.
"Hi," I said.
"Hi," she replied.
"Do you have a pen?"
"Yes! Wait, that one works better." She barely had an accent, light enough I couldn't figure out what it was. I saw a red square with a white cross on her water bottle.
"Are you Swiss?"
"No, I am French. I have a Swiss water bottle."
<now in French> "Ah, I speak a little French. I studied French at my university."
I went on to throw a few Spanish words in by accident as I tried to continue speaking in French. I wonder how much practice I would need before I can speak French exclusively again? We switched to English.
Jackie (surprised me that it's not "Jacqui") had already traveled all over South America, south-to-north, and she liked it so much, she was doing it again, north-to-south. At the moment, she was going to take a bus to Piura, then fly to Cusco and see Machu Picchu. I told her a little about my adventure.
"But you're so clean!" she protested. Uh, not really...it had rained again that morning, so my lower half was covered in mud. I figured I should take it as a compliment. Maybe I'm that handsome!
I wish I'd taken the time to ask her more about her trip, including the one before, so I'd know what's coming and what to expect. And how long she'd be in Piura, in case she was still there when I arrived a few days later, maybe she'd know a good place to stay. Or maybe just because she was interesting and I wanted to know what she was doing! But instead I finished filling out my form and went back inside the office, and she got a cab.
Bon voyage et bonne chance, Jackie!
Only a few more border crossings to go on the whole continent. And this one didn't even have a crazy-ass makeshift village around it with people practically (and sometimes literally) chasing you down to sell you something. A far cry from Central America, where I crossed a border fitting that description about every three days.
Still early in the morning, not far to go, almost all flat, staying at a HI hostel on the beach. This was gonna be a good day.
HI stands for Hostelling International, a worldwide organization of hostels that are cheap and well-run. Every experience I've had with a HI hostel, whether in Germany or Costa Rica, has been a good one. They cost less than almost any other arrangement in the area, they come with modern amenities like showers and WiFi, they're clean, they're usually in good locations, and you get to meet people from all over the world.
The hostel didn't give precise directions, though it gave an address. As it turned out, the hostel was past the town it was supposed to be in. Not a problem really, I prefer that for the quiet, and it trims a few km off the next day's ride. By the time I got to the hostel, I saw a sign stating that Mancora, tomorrow's destination, was only 69 km away.
Turned out the hostel had no rooms, only camping. That's fine; I like camping, especially on the beach! But they wanted 30 soles for that. Um, there were hotel rooms in town that cost 20 soles.
The clincher, though: they don't take credit cards. As I stood next to Valeria, they explained their solution: go ahead and ride five km to this other hotel, don't stay there, use their ATM and ride five km back. Then pay us about as much as that hotel charges, only for camping.
It was only 12:30 PM. 69 km to Mancora, where I can stay somewhere better, with a WarmShowers host, for free. Gee, I wonder...
If you're going to overcharge, you need to at least accept credit cards.
Wait, let me fix that. If you're going to use the word "international" in your name, you need to accept credit cards.
Wait, let me fix that. If you're not a street vendor and you want to sell anything ever, you need to accept credit cards.
You will lose customers if you don't.
Now on the coast, there was a new factor I hadn't accounted for: wind. Incredible wind! Colombia, Ecuador, and Central America hadn't had much in any direction, but here, holy moly! And I was headed in the wrong direction.
The Peruvian coast is essentially a desert, the majority of the landscape a sandy monochrome, broken up only by occasional palm trees and the deep, azure blue of the Pacific.
My WarmShowers host in Mancora was incredibly responsive and wrote to me several times, but still never gave me an address or directions. He apparently owned a hotel, and told me it was on the south side of town. That's all I had to go on.
Lucky me, just as I got into town, a teenager on a carbon fiber Trek started riding alongside me. He asked about my ride and where I was staying. Wasn't familiar with the hotel specifically, but knew what road it should be on.
Just as it looked like we were leaving town on the other side, he pointed to an unpaved road.
"It's there. You will have to ask for Kasa Pelikanos, I do not know it."
I wound up doing at least five km on the unpaved road, and was impressed with Valeria for how well she handled it! And I'm not even using tires that are any good for dirt or gravel. If the Carretera Austral is no worse, and I'm using wider, knobbier tires, it could be fun!
Then came the sand. Not a little bit. Thick, deep, loose sand, the kind you see on the beach. Valeria cut a trench 20 cm deep and came to a complete stop one second later. I walked the last km.
When I got to Kasa Pelikanos, Ismael was standing outside. It was nearly sunset. He showed me around his place, gave me some bread, and took me to my room. It looked like I was the only one there.
Ismael has a large property that's almost finished. The room I had the pleasure of staying in was a cool setup, and you could tell that soon, the whole place was gonna be nice, from the cabanas up the hill to the shaded area down on the beach. The restaurant was opening that very Saturday! Sorry I missed it!
Ismael told me I could stay an extra night. I'd been looking forward to spending some time on the beach both here and at the hostel, and after my shower, it was already dark. Now I wouldn't have the chance, unless I took a day off, which wouldn't even put me behind schedule. Yeah, why not?
Swimming, beachcombing, stargazing, a fun run up and down the shoreline. And since it wasn't vacation season, I was about the only one around at all. For lunch, Ismael and I tried a few of the last things that might be on the menu when the restaurant opened that weekend. Holy crap, can Ismael's chef cook!
Away from a city for the first time in weeks, the stars captivated me once again. Even at sea level, the Milky Way was easily visible with the naked eye. And now in the southern hemisphere, everything is different. I kept looking for my favorite constellations even though I intellectually understood they wouldn't be there. It's strange when something so constant is different in a way that’s not immediately noticeable. I feel like there are more colorful stars here too, more red giants and blue dwarfs, but maybe that's only because I'm seeing ones I'm not used to, and they stick out.
What I especially liked was the color of the water here. I wish I was able to get it in full brilliance on camera, but it never came out. A frothy white on the sand, quickly yielding to a vivid teal, then fading to turquoise, and finally settling on a full, deep blue on the horizon. Wow.
Hard to leave a place like this!